The Great Music Debate
To run with music or not – it has been a very hot topic between runners of all ages and competition levels. At one point (2007), USATF banned the use of portable music devices in its sanctioned events. The ban was later amended, but the clash between headphone lovers and haters continues on. A growing subgroup of “plugged-in” runners wouldn’t even think about running unless they had their motivating playlists cheering them on. Unplugged traditionalists, however, think being aware of one’s body and surroundings is a fundamental part of running. There has been a conglomeration of studies published related to music and performance enhancement, yet the debate continues on.
What are the pros and cons of “plugging in”?
- Music can sometimes make running feel easier; studies find that music reduces your perception of how hard you are running. An external stimulus such as music can actually block some of the internal fatigue-related messages trying to reach the brain. When these messages are blocked, perceived effort may be reduced, so you may feel like you can run farther and faster.
- Music also elevates positive aspects of mood and reduces negative aspects such as tension, fatigue and confusion, so it can be used pre-performance to get runners into an optimal mindset.
-Let’s face it, sometimes even running junkies lack motivation to go out for a run, especially when the weekly mileage is piling up. Music can help us ‘stay on track’.
- Listening to music can remove you from the other sounds that running produces, such as breathing and foot-strike, which are essential cues that give runners feedback related to effort.
- Listening to music also removes you from the environment you're in, which can be unsafe. Especially when running around the massive snow mounds of Boston right now. Doing so reduces awareness and increases reaction time.
- If one becomes dependent on music to run, they may lose sense of what might be truly motivating to them to do so.
- The ability to reflect and be at peace is something we've lost in our culture; we've lost it in favor of multitasking. Listening to music while running keeps us too “plugged in” and can prevent us from enjoying the running experience itself.
- For the average person, music can be a motivational force and can be used as a distraction from the boredom that some people often associate with exercise. However, not everyone views running as a means to an end – some people enjoy running itself and being aware of how their body is responding. You do not have to be a stellar athlete to be in tune with your body.
- Music is not effective for those who focus intently on internal cues such as breathing and heart rate. This type of athlete tends to not derive as much benefit from external stimuli such as music.
So how can runners use music to their advantage?
- The benefits from music tend to occur at low to moderate running intensities.
- If an athlete can consciously tie in their cadence to the rhythm of music, it may result in more efficient oxygen use during running. To do this, you need to figure out your typical cadence for your leisurely run versus a tempo run, and then find music with beats that are slightly above that rate.
- If the music is too fast, it isn't likely to boost your performance or endurance, according to Brunel University sports psychology expert Costas Karageorghis, PhD. "Findings show there is a sweet spot, in terms of tempo, between 120 and 140 beats per minute," says Karageorghis, who has studied the effects of music on exercise for more than 20 years. "Beyond that, it doesn't improve enjoyment or any other psychological variable while exercising." Songs over 140 bpm are unlikely to improve workouts, he says.
- To kick into high gear when you need it most, pick one fast-paced song (at least 130 bpm) whose lyrics fire you up and position it to play at the point during your run when you usually feel terrible.
- For as much as I enjoy running itself, there are days when my legs are tired and I would rather crawl into bed rather than go for a long run…this is when I turn my music on!
Final thoughts from a running junkie: If you chose to listen to music, make sure to turn it down so you are not completely unaware of what is going on around you. If you use music for every workout, you can become desensitized to it or rely on it in races, so periodically unplug yourself from the busyness of this crazy world, take a deep breath of fresh air, take some time to reflect on life and become more in tune with your body and surroundings.
Suggested website – can search music by beats per minute or pace per mile: http://jog.fm/workout-songs